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Bookish. Publisher at Louise Walters Books. Reader, writer, and editor.

Thursday, 20 May 2021

Twelve books in: the view from here

When I approached my fiftieth birthday in 2017, I decided I wanted to be a publisher. I was a published novelist, with my debut novel having done rather well: translated into fifteen languages, and getting a big flashy deal in the USA. A few things did go awry with that first book: my editor in the USA left for a new job, and the enthusiasm for my book left with her. My book was "orphaned" at its publisher. Promotion stateside was minimal, and so were sales; there was never a paperback in the USA. However, these things happen, and none of it was the end of the world, and my book still did OK elsewhere. 

My second novel was turned down by my UK publisher; a huge blow. But also not the end of the world. Another publisher showed interest; then changed their mind. That was a worse blow and at that point I was not feeling too positive about corporate publishing. So I decided to self-publish my second novel. And I loved that process. It sold reasonably well in the UK, and still sells. It won't make me rich. But neither did my debut corporate-published novel, in the end. 

I decided to set up Louise Walters Books, and published my third novel, and in 2017 I announced to the world I was now A Publisher, and was looking for novels and novellas. I had quite a lot of submissions.  I soon found myself working very long hours, fulfilling my aim of publishing four books per year. I was super-enthusiastic, and confident that sales would pick up, because my books were good: well-written by talented writers, well-edited by both author and me, and professionally produced by my amazing freelance team. I still had the naive idea in my head that publishing was a meritocracy. At the 2019 London Book Fair I met up with and chatted to the American editor who had commissioned my debut novel in the USA, and she gave me two pieces of advice: four books per year was a lot; and I should write another novel. 

As the months rolled by and I published more books, one per season, I realised I needed to make more money. The books weren't selling anywhere near enough. I was fortunate to get some freelance editorial work with Jericho Writers and Retreat West, both of whom continue to send me projects to work on. But I found myself working even longer hours, and pouring most of my editorial income into my publishing. My family barely saw me. My marriage suffered. We did less and less as a family. I was getting up early, going to bed late, drinking too much, worrying too much, and missing my family too much. 

I still believed in the books I was publishing, and I was doing my flat-out best to publish them well. I commissioned my seventh author, then decided to close to submissions for a while. I entered all and any prizes my books were eligible for, but no dice (yet). We did get one long-listing in a new prize (Laura Laakso's marvellous Roots of Corruption was on the inaugural Barbellion Prize long list in 2020). 

I still haven't yet secured any translation deals for any of my books; nor have any of them been taken up in other English-speaking territories. I have had some audio and large print deals for some of my books, which has been very helpful, from the fabulous W F Howes. I've had amazing support from readers and book bloggers, and a lovely handful of bookshops. My website sales have been steady, and encouraging; my e-book sales are insufficient, and bookshop sales, other than those wonderfully supportive exceptions, have been extremely disappointing. 

Publishing has been frustrating, exhausting, worrying, and ultimately it has left me skint,  disillusioned, and disappointed. The corporate publishers rule the roost and I can't see myself ever breaking through that terrible barrier. I think my class has hampered me too. I'm working-class and I make no bones about that. Why should I? It's who and what I am. My books don't get reviewed possibly because I don't know anybody who works at The Guardian or any other middle-class newspaper; nor working-class newspapers, come to that. I have no contacts. Believe me, I have tried to make them. Publishing is a posh world, no doubt about it. I seriously do wonder if my publishing venture would have fared better had I been to private school, or at least grammar school. Who knows? 

My guilt trip is immense. I've spent all my savings on my publishing and I don't earn enough money to comfortably co-pay the mortgage and bills; then came the first lockdown last year and that was the beginning of the end financially. My family and I are in the process of having to make some pretty tough decisions. 

What's been good about indie publishing? First and foremost, working with seven talented writers. It's been a privilege. I've loved every minute, and to edit such fine writing has been a highlight of my life. The support we have enjoyed from individuals has been such an encouragement and a boost to all of us at LWB. I'm amazed that people spend their hard-earned dosh on books I commissioned, edited, and published. All my writers deserve to sell their books, of course, but every time I receive an order at my website, it's still a huge thrill. 

Being my own boss is brilliant, and working from home is undeniably convenient, if lonely. It seems as though the entire world has written a novel and wants it critiqued. No complaints here. 

I'm immensely proud of what I've achieved over the last five years; my book-loving ten-year-old self can't believe what her fifty-year-old self has gone on to do in life. In fact my book-loving forty-year-old self can't believe it either. Louise Walters Books may not be a "success" in terms of making money, and maybe only time will tell if it was ultimately worth it, but it has been a source of pride, and it has given me new skills and new confidence. I've met some outstanding people over the last few years too, people I would never have met without the publishing. 

I'm publishing just one book in 2022. I'll remain closed to submissions now until late 2022-ish, if not longer. In the meantime, I'm going to work hard on my forthcoming books (November 2021 and November 2022) and will continue working hard to promote my dozen glorious books.   

Have I failed? Yes and No. I've been failed, as my wise husband points out to me regularly. The book industry as a whole is very geared towards the big corporate publishers. There is resistance to indie publishers. I think there exists a vague but pervasive and erroneous notion that an indie publisher is somehow lesser; amateur; picking off the corporate publishers' rejected, therefore inferior, submissions. None of that is true. Is there a tougher industry to set up business in than publishing? The glass ceiling in impenetrable and cares not for how hard you work. Hard work and excellent writing are not enough. The cream does not rise to the top. If it did, at least one of my books would have found its way onto some pretty good prize long lists. That hasn't happened (yet) so if I'm going to continue as a publisher, it will be for love, not money; one book a year, not four.  

That advice from the American editor at the London Book Fair? Spot on, 100%. My half-written fourth novel patiently awaits... and as one of my authors frequently says to me in her encouraging e-mails, ONWARDS. 

I extend my deep and heartfelt thanks to you if you've supported my press in any way: buying, subscribing, reading, reviewing, recommending, tweeting, retweeting, Facebook-sharing, Instagram-liking, Buying me a Coffee...  whatever it is, I promise it has helped. Thank you x

Louise Walters is a writer, editor, and publisher. She is the author of three novels: Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase (Hodder 2014), A Life Between Us (LWB 2017), and The Road to California (LWB 2018). Please visit the Louise Walters Books website where you'll discover more about her twelve books, seven authors, and her flourishing editorial services. 


Friday, 14 May 2021

And then there were twelve...

As I write, it's just two days until S J Norbury's debut novel Mrs Narwhal's Diary is published, on Sunday 16 May. This is the day the diary begins, so we thought it would be a nice day to publish the book. My twelfth at LWB! 

We thought it would also be nice to write a blog post about how I came to publish S J's novel...

In January 2019, Jericho Writers sent a project to me and asked me to provide an in-depth editorial report. I'd been working with Jericho Writers for a couple of years at that point, and most of the projects I'd worked on were very much beginners' work, needing lots of input, and usually full of rookie errors. Interesting work, and work I needed (and still need) to pay my wages and finance my publishing; but, at times, quite repetitive... the same mistakes do seem to crop up over and over again ;-) 

In February 2019 I started work on the project named Mrs Narwhal's Diary and just a few sentences in I realised I was reading something extraordinary. The characters lifted off the page from the start; it was funny, warm, engaging, charming. This is how I introduced S J's report:

"Thank you for the chance to read and work on your novel Mrs Narwhal’s Diary. I have to say, it is rare to get the chance to work on such a professional and accomplished manuscript. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed your novel. Funny, fresh, invigorating, surprisingly moving in places. Pithy, shrewd observations throughout only add to the novel’s great charm. Your fabulous cast of characters, and great characterisation (generally, with a few slips, which I will talk about later) are fascinating to follow. I was rooting for all of them at one point or another. There were many genuine laugh-out-loud moments, and my family gave me many odd looks, and there were several “What’s up with Mum?” type comments all over the weekend as I read and laughed my way through your novel." 

I gave S J some tips for improving a few aspects of the story, and I encouraged her to try agents. She did... but, astoundingly, she didn't get offered representation. I'm still rather puzzled by that. Of course, at the back of my mind I was longing to publish Diary myself, but I didn't want to offer until S J had tried other, bigger routes to publication. I felt her writing was more than good enough to get representation and it was a huge surprise to me that it didn't. 

So, we had a chat... we met up in Worcester for coffee and cake... and it was agreed that I would publish Mrs Narwhal's Diary. I know it deserved more, much more - an agent and a big glossy deal with a Big 5 publisher - but those things weren't on offer. And I felt both deeply disappointed and wildly ecstatic. We commenced our editorial work, and I engaged once again the assistance of cover designer Jennie Rawlings, and interior designer Leigh Forbes; and LWB author Helen Kitson who helped us out with copy editing. We had a lot of fun editing the novel. It's a book that's just as delightful to work on as it is to read. I love all the characters, especially Rose, the sassy, beautiful, but deeply vulnerable sister-in-law of the eponymous Mrs Narwhal (we never get to know Mrs N's first name). Rose, like all the characters, has real depth, emotional depth. To my mind the relationship between Mrs N and Rose is the novel's central relationship, and it's unusual to see sisters-in-law placed at the heart of a novel. 

Lockdown disrupted things, of course. My carefully planned publishing schedule went up in smoke! But in the end we couldn't resist publishing the book on the day the diary begins, 16 May. May is a perfect time to publish any book, and especially a perfect summer read like this one. 

I always hope all my books find their readers. They all deserve to be widely read; and Diary is perhaps my most commercial title. It's not really an "indie press book". I'll always know that a Big 5 publisher could have snapped it up, and made it a huge hit. It should be a Richard and Judy pick; it should be in supermarkets; it should be gracing bookshop windows, and be on a table somewhere near the front of your local Waterstones. The BBC should be gagging to option it for a Sunday night series. And all that could still happen, if the book finds readers and gets into bookshops, and word of mouth does its thing. I truly hope that happens. All books are bigger than their publisher, and Mrs Narwhal's Diary is  truly big, or deserves to be. Please help to make that happen by buying the book, borrowing the book, reviewing it, recommending it to others. 

You can read  an excerpt of Mrs Narwhal's Diary on S J's author page on my website here

Mrs Narwhal's Diary is published on 16 May by Louise Walters Books in paperback and e-book, and will be published by W F Howes in large print, and in audio, narrated by actress Helen Keeley.  


Sunday, 28 February 2021

What's in a word?


I published Helen Kitson's second novel, Old Bones, in January. There hasn't been much fanfare, but then it's hard to generate that for any book in these odd times. It's had some fabulous reviews, and, as I type this, the book is currently on tour, with the book bloggers giving the novel a general thumbs-up. It's an unusual novel in that the three central characters are all women in their early sixties. I loved this aspect of the novel and I thought others would too, and they do. All good. However, the blurb on the back of the cover has caused a mild commotion: 

Helen takes us back to the fictional Shropshire village of Morevale in this, her brilliant second novel which exposes the fragilities and strengths of three remarkably unremarkable elderly women. 

"Sixty isn't elderly!" is something Helen and I have heard from several readers. It got us thinking... to the point where we decided to remove the word from the blurb for future editions of the book... and replace it with... with what? With nothing is certainly an option. But I think we need to reiterate that the novel is about women past middle age. It's an important selling point. The blurb has a job to do, which to entice readers by conveying the premise in a succinct, clear way. (And writing a good blurb is one of the hardest jobs in publishing, let me tell you!)  

So, we have changed our minds back, and we've decided to stick to the word "elderly". It might be a little controversial, but there's nothing wrong with that...And I've invited Helen onto my blog to talk about our use of the word. Here she is...

"My second novel, Old Bones, focuses on the lives and regrets of three women all over the age of sixty. Unusual, but hardly controversial. More problematic, it seems, is the use of the word “elderly” in the back cover blurb to describe them. The fact that so many people have taken issue with this suggests to me that we still have a problem with the issue of ageing: what does getting old, or older, mean? How do we describe people who fall uncomfortably between “middle age” and “elderly”? What do these words mean, if they mean anything at all? 

My “ladies of a certain age” are described as elderly in the blurb because that’s how they see themselves. They feel life has passed them by, that the good bits are over. But is this what elderly means? When we use the word, do we imagine someone whose past is more significant and more interesting than their present or their future? Seated in a cafĂ©, sixty-year-old Antonia “glances around and notices other women who are perhaps her age or older, yet they seem so much younger. Their clothes are more modern and their faces have a lightness she can’t quite place. These women might have their troubles, but they are not trapped in the past like her and Diana”. She understands that “elderly” is a state of mind rather than anything to do with her actual age, but this throws up another problem, namely how we view the inevitable process of ageing. 

Helen signing copies of Old Bones, Oxford, November 2020

The fact that readers are annoyed, even offended, by the use of the word “elderly” does, perhaps, say something about how we privilege youth over age. Having a young outlook, a youthful appearance: these are seen as positive things. We know, logically, that being old is not in itself a bad thing; that Mary Wesley had her first book for adults published when she was seventy-one; that many people speak of being “happily retired”, retirement giving them time to do all the things they couldn’t do when they were working. 

I’m fifty-five and I don’t consider myself to be elderly, but I don’t consider myself to be middle-aged, either. I’m not young, and yes, sometimes that bothers me, though largely for reasons of vanity. There’s a part of me that would like to become poet Jenny Joseph’s old lady who wears purple with a red hat, though even that suggests a kind of desperate bravery: the performance of bravado, a middle finger up to everyone who thinks old people should be neither seen nor heard. 

Helen and Louise, March 2019, celebrating the launch of Helen's debut (also in Oxford)
(photo: Laura Laakso)

The euphemistic “older” seems to have caught on, at least in America, but is it really a meaningful step forward? Its great appeal, I suppose, is its vagueness – older than what? It seems to me a bit of a cop-out; a bit patronising, even. The fact that my “elderly” ladies have ruffled a few feathers has forced me to look at my own tendency to use the words “youth” and “old age” in, respectively, positive and negative ways. 

Turning forty didn’t bother me, and even my fiftieth birthday didn’t faze me unduly. As I approach my fifty-sixth birthday, however, I’m becoming much more conscious of no longer being young, unable even to cling to “middle-aged” as a descriptor for myself. And yes, I would baulk at being described as elderly, because of the images that word conjures up; what sixty-three-year-old Diana describes in Old Bones as “the monotonous grey shuffle towards the final sunset”. Because isn’t that how we view the elderly? In abstract terms we know that, generally speaking, the older you are, the closer you are to that “final sunset”. That is, of course, an uncomfortable thought. A “youthful” fifty-five, I find myself panicking, working out how many more years I can reasonably hope to live, and how many books I can reasonably read (and write) in that time. My world view has changed in the past five years. It’s not so much that I dwell on the past, more that I have a greater sense of having to come to terms with the fact that my life is finite. There are many things I simply no longer have the time to achieve – or not to the extent I would like. If I’m not elderly, I’m certainly not young, and that’s something I simply have to suck up and accept. On the plus side, it means I can let go of things that don’t actually matter that much. 

I have more past than future, and there are times when that can feel bleak. On the other hand, I’m far more content with my life now than when I was in my twenties. Even so, age is not just a number, it is freighted with all kinds of thoughts and associations, and expectations. There’s a lot of “50 is the new 40” and so on, but is that helpful? Isn’t it just another way of trying to cling to youth as the ideal state? It’s certainly true that my lifestyle and behaviour are very different from my grandparents’ when they were the age I am now. I don’t think I’m necessarily more youthful (whatever that may mean), simply that expectations of how people should behave at particular ages have changed. And I don’t need to wear purple (with or without a red hat) to prove that I have no intention of conforming to societal expectations of how a woman of my age, of any age, should behave. Because that is really the point of Jenny Joseph’s poem, isn’t it? There is even an actual Red Hat Society inspired by Warning, for “women approaching fifty and beyond”. The existence of this society is telling. I think it says a lot about how society views women, in particular, who are no longer young, and I would suggest this is why readers of Old Bones have found the word “elderly” problematic, because it highlights the fact that there is no satisfactory word (and, in the eyes of many, no real purpose) for women over sixty. That, I would suggest, is something worth thinking about, and something that I hope readers take away from Old Bones."

So much to think about. Big thanks to Helen for writing this piece. We would love to hear your thoughts on this. Feel free to comment below or follow us on Twitter to continue the conversation:




Old Bones was published on 18 January 2021, in paperback and e-book by Louise Walters Books. It will also be published in audio book and large print by W F Howes.